Simpler than the centerback dilemma, I believe....
Right back: Mario Gaspar has been a regular for...well, it seems like forever, but since the 2010-11 season. Say what you like about Garrido, he gave us Bruno and Mario. When we think about cantera players we tend to overlook Mario, but he played for the C team in 2007-08, B from 2008 on, and became a first-team regular in January 2011 when Angel was injured. He’s under contract to 2023.
His backup has been Antonio Rukavina, who can also play on the left side. Ruka has often played more for his Serbian national team than he has for Villarreal, it seems like. He joined us in 2014 from Valladolid and has played in 59 La Liga matches over four years.
Predicted summer activity: Rukavina is 34, and his contract expires this summer. He’s talking to the club about an extension. The B team has had Miguel Llambrich at right back; his contract expires this summer as well. Llambrich (age 22) would be good to renew, but he would be best served by playing in the Segunda regularly next season, either for us or someone on loan. Ruka is the perfect player who is happy to play when he is needed, where he’s needed. I think he gets a one- or even a two-year deal.
Is there a chance someone comes in with a big offer for Mario? Sure, though it’s less likely than when he was scoring goals for the Spanish NT a year ago. If they do, we’ll assess then.
Left back: Jaume Costa came up in the Valencia ranks, joined our B team in 2010 and the first team (then in the Segunda) in fall 2012; he’s been omnipresent since then. Loves to support the attack, leads us in yellow cards most seasons, leaves everything on the pitch. And in spite of his hell-for-leather playing style, he’s remarkably durable. 30 years old, under contract to 2021, at which point he’ll be 33, so we really need to develop someone to replace him—ideally, someone who won’t leave quite so much space behind him at times....
Adrian Marín was supposed to be that someone. A talented youth product who has featured for Spanish national teams through the U-21 level, he made nine starts for us in 2015-16 and it seemed he might be the next player to make the jump from the cantera to a regular starting spot. However, in July 2016 we decided to loan him to Leganés. He struggled there with injuries and had surgery last summer—essentially, physical problems because of growing spurts. Calleja has selected him to our squad sometimes, but he’s only played seven games all season, two in the league. Still he’s only 21, and signed to 2021.
This might as well be the place to talk about Alfonso Pedraza. A very talented youngster who joined our youth setup at age 15, he’s really more of a left winger or attacking midfielder, but he can also play left back. He’s been a regular everywhere we’ve loaned him—Lugo, Leeds United, Alavés—and at age 22 and under contract until 2021, surely he will be part of our first team in 2018-19. He’s an interesting player in that he is a scorer, but he’s a good defender too and offers more physicality than Villarreal typically has. With Denis Cheryshev as an option at left wing, Pedraza could slot in behind him.
Predicted summer activity: Jaume Costa isn’t going anywhere. But with Adrian Marín, it’s not so simple. If Calleja hasn’t been impressed with him, is that due to injury, or what, exactly? Because he sure looked a can’t miss prospect in 2016. The problem for Marín is if we keep him, we need to play him; otherwise, he needs to be loaned to a Primera team who will do that, or else we sell him, maybe with a right of repurchase, though I don’t think those things work that well any more.
Pedraza needs to be given first-team football with us, but that may not be at left back. If we don’t think Marín is going to make an impact, and we move him on in some fashion, then (if we sign Rukavina) are we okay with Jaume Costa as a regular with a backup plan of Pedraza and Ruka, or do we want more depth? I tend to think we ought to stay the course with Marín, see how he does and where it makes sense to play Pedraza. But will Marin see enough playing time to make it worthwhile? What happens on the left side of our formation is going to be interesting to watch.